The French Oscars, under fire, brace for a Polanski showdown

With Frances film industry in the midst of a belated #MeToo awakening, the annual César Awards have set the stage for a showdown with feminist groups by handing Roman Polanskis latest film the lion's share of nominations.


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Another year, another “Affaire Polanski” for Frances César Awards.

French cinemas annual showcase event, the local equivalent of Oscars night, is just two weeks away – but for beleaguered organisers at the Académie des Césars, it couldnt come soon enough.

The run-up to the glitzy event has once again been upset by a growing fracas centred on Roman Polanski – this one involving the mother of all “affaires”, the late 19th-century Dreyfus Affair, which the Franco-Polish director has turned into a hugely successful, and controversial, film.

Polanski, now 86, has been wanted in the US for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl since 1978. He is a fugitive under American law and persona non grata in Hollywood. But his latest film, “An Officer and a Spy” (or “J'accuse” in French) has received 12 nominations at the César Awards, topping the field and sparking outrage among feminist groups who had called for a boycott of the film.

“12 César nominations for Roman Polanskis Jaccuse. 12, like the number of women who accuse him of pedo-criminal rape,” feminist groups wrote in an open letter to the French press on Monday, referring to other accusations of sex assault levelled at the director over the years.

“With these 12 nominations, the film industry has given its open and unconditional support to a fugitive rapist, who has admitted he drugged and raped a 13-year-old child and has fled US justice. Two years after #MeToo, while Harvey Weinstein faces a possible life sentence in the United States, here in France we acclaim and celebrate a fugitive pedo-criminal rapist,” they added, vowing to stage protests outside the Salle Pleyel in Paris, where the Césars will be awarded on February 28.

Out of touch

This is not the first time the Césars have faced controversy because of Polanski. In 2017, he was invited to preside over the awards ceremony, but stepped down after the proposal sparked outrage.

Laurence Rossignol, then the French minister for womens rights, had called the decision to invite Polanski “shocking and surprising”, while the hashtag #BoycottCesars soon gained traction on Twitter. Likewise, Marlène Schiappa, who has inherited the gender equality portfolio in President Emmanuel Macrons government, has reacted with dismay to the latest César nominations, suggesting French cinema is “yet to complete its awakening, its revolution”.

Brigitte Rollet, a film specialist at the University of Versailles and Sciences-Po Paris, says both incidents reflect “the academys startling impermeability to what is going on around it, to the wider context that makes some of its decisions seem so out of touch”.

Though it preceded the #MeToo movement by several months, Polanskis botched appointment in 2017 came at a time of heightened awareness of sex abuse and gender inequality worldwide. It occurred just days after millions of women took to the streets around the world, including in Paris, to highlight womens issues and to protest against the sexist antics of the newly elected US president, Donald Trump.

Three years on, French cinema has finally begun its own reckoning of sex abuse allegations in the film industry, spurred on by the likes of actress Adèle Haenel, who touched a nerve last autumn when she opened up about the sexual harassment she endured while shooting her first film, aged 12.

The Cesar awards are literally – *LITERALLY* – inviting an actor who was a victim of sexual assault by a director when she was a child (Adele Haenel), and a director who sexually abused a child (Roman Polanski), to be in the same room together for a big celebration of film.

— Caspar Salmon (@CasparSalmon) January 29, 2020

Days later, French photographer Valentine Monnier became the latest woman to accuse Polanski of raping her, alleging an “extremely violent” assault at his Swiss chalet in 1975 when she was 18 – a claim the director has denied.

In celebrating Polanski regardless of this context, Rollet says the Académie des Césars “isnt so much trying to make a point as it is simply failing to even consider what kind of message it is sending out”.

Naming the crime

The message is that France is lagging way behind the US when it comes to recognising and addressing sex abuse in the industry, says Audrey Clinet, a filmmaker and founder of the EROÏN platform, which helps showcase the work of female directors.

Clinet, who is based most of the year in Hollywood, points to a form of hypocrisy and incoherence in French attitudes to the issue. Its a “contradiction between wanting to defend people like Haenel while at the same time failing to denounce the likes of Polanski”.

“If you support Adèle Haenel, why would you go watch a film by someone who committed acts of paedophilia?” she asks, arguing that French media also have a habit of mischaracterising the crimes involved, most notably when it comes to child abuse.

“Theres the abuse suffered by women and the abuse suffered by children, and in these cases were talking about the latter,” she explains, drawing a parallel with the child abuse allegations that have shaken French ice skating in recent weeks.

“We forgot that Haenel was a child at the time [of the alleged abuse]; were talking about paedophilia, period,” she says.

Asked whether, in Polanskis case, one should distinguish between the artist and the man, Clinet says the argument has been used all too often to absolve one from making a stand.

“Why should artists be untouchable? And why does the industry continue to support someone like Polanski?” she asks. “I dont want to be a part of this, so I wont watch his movie.”

Calls for a boycott

The head of the French film academy, Alain Terzian, has strongly defended its right to honour Polanskis film, arguing that it is not up to his institution to “adopt a moral stance” when handing out awards.
“Unless I am wrong, 1.5 million French people have gone to see his film. Go ask them,” he shot back when asked if the academy should be celebrating the veteran filmmmaker.

"An Officer and a Spy", which tells the story of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jewish officer who was wrongly convicted of spying, won both best director and the critics prize at the Venice Film Festival in August. The director sparked an uproar there by comparing the “hounding” he has experienced to the anti-Semitic persecution Dreyfus suffered, and then blaming disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein for his woes.

His film has also been a box office hit at home, despite a wave of protests that saw some screenings cancelled after protesters invaded or blockaded cinemas. Whether or not to watch the film presented many moviegoers with a genuine dilemma, in a way that has rarely bRead More – Source

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